Balsall Heath – the past, present and future

Balsall Heath is an inner-city, predominantly working class area of Birmingham. It is incredibly diverse, being the central location of the Balti Triangle (a cultural landmark glorifying the balti restaurants along three roads within Balsall Heath).

Historically the area has undergone a number of industrial and urban shifts. In the nineteenth century, the area was predominantly agricultural. It then experienced a significant border shift, moving the area from the county of Worcestershire to Birmingham.

The local area has a number of notable landmarks. For example the Balsall Heath baths, which opened up in 1907; Ladypool Road, named after a small lake that was filled in to create a park in 1900; and the former Balsall Heath Carlton Cinema which now functions as a car park.

During the nineteenth century, Balsall Heath had a reasonably affluent population, demonstrable within the grandeur of some of the larger houses along Clifton Road. At the same time, the development of a large railway station on Brighton Road led to further expansion of the town, resulting in the end of the 19th century seeing a proliferation of high-density terraced houses.

Fast forward to the 1980s, the local council had embarked on an urban renewal project which involved regenerating the Victorian housing in the area, adding indoor toilets and central heating. Social housing also emerged which provides the area with is characteristic juxtapositioning of older and newer buildings.  

The 1990s brought about a change in the local demographic – which in turn had been predominantly local, working class and diverse – with a number of young, transient university students choosing to reside in the area.

In July 2005, Balsall Heath was hit by a tornado, which devastated many buildings around Church Road and Ladypool Road. Birmingham City Council offered loans to those who would otherwise be unable to repair their properties, and the area has now made a full recovery. However, the link between the tornado and climate change sparked off a number of community-led responses, most notably in the form of Balsall Heath is Our Planet, a community initiative that aims to reduce the environmental impact of our inner city neighbourhood

Balsall Heath and the wider Birmingham area is intrinsically linked to energy consumption. The surrounding areas of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire still contain active coalfields, which in turn are preserved through an affiliated research organisation and a historical society. At its peak, Birmingham had around 170 miles of waterways and canals, this has reduced to around 35 miles (still larger than the amount in Venice). During the Industrial Revolution the canals were busy waterways transporting coal, iron and other heavy goods. They in turn played a crucial role in the development of Birmingham and the Black Country.

Nowadays, community organisations within Balsall Heath have taken ownership of their relationship with local sources of energy. Organisations are working together to address some of the key issues within the area through re-thinking how they use energy. For example, tackling unemployment by training individuals to install solar and water panels; encouraging schools to become areas of environmental best practise to set an example for future generations; as well as a successful campaign to re-open the Balsall Heath to Kings Norton railway line in order to address current car use.

Given its diverse and resilience local population, and the area’s close brushes with the negative impact of climate change, as well as its long and multifaceted relationship to energy consumption, Balsall Heath proved to be a good match with the premise of the research.